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U.S. women empty, men serve for 1st

The U.S. women were nowhere in sight when the first beach volleyball medals were awarded Saturday, but an American gold was assured when the two surviving men's teams, Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh and the duo of Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes, won their semifinal matches.

Their victories came on a day when the U.S. women's team of Linda Hanley and Barb Fontana Harris lost to an Australian team in the bronze-medal match, and Jackie Silva and Sandra Pires won the gold by defeating fellow Brazilians Monica Rodrigues and Adriana Samuel. They were the first Olympic medals by any Brazilian women.

Asked how this compared with other losses, Hanley said, "How about the worst of my life," then stormed out of the interview room.

She returned after regaining her composure.

"We're disappointed but we played hard," said Fontana Harris, who complained of leg fatigue. "We got beat out there today. It's good for volleyball. This shows the rest of the world has gotten better."

Hanley and Fontana Harris had an 11-9 lead in the first set but lost the next three points. (Unlike the early rounds, medal matches are best of three 12-point sets).

Today, the four Southern Californian men contest an All-American final. Dodd and Whitmarsh scrambled to a 15-13 comeback over the scrappy Portuguese team of Luis Miguel Maia and Joao Carlos Brenha. Kiraly and Steffes advanced with a 15-13 victory over John Child and Mark Heese of Canada.

"We should have closed them out at 15-7, but I made some dumb hits," said Kiraly, the most successful player on the beach circuit in the last decade with 118 victories and more than $2 million in earnings.

Steffes said the final will be a fitting way to conclude beach volleyball's Olympic debut.

"Southern California is the birthplace of the sport," said Steffes, "and we're getting a chance to showcase it to the world."

Today's gold-medal game features two teams that battle almost weekly for superiority on the U.S. pro tour.

"This is where we wanted to be _ playing for the gold medal," said Kiraly, who is seeking to become the first volleyball player to win three gold medals. (He won playing indoor volleyball in 1984 and 1988.) "Even nicer still is to be playing against a couple guys that I love to compete against and are good friends, too."

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